After months of uncertainty, a substance-abuse treatment facility will remain in Hartford.
Blue Hills Hospital, a state-run facility located on Vine Street in the North End, will keep its 21 detox beds, despite calls earlier this year to relocate them to Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown as a cost-saving measure.
Community activists and local politicians alike criticized the proposal when it was proposed last spring, saying the decision would prove fatal for opioid users in the capital city. But when the state legislature passed its bipartisan budget in late October after months of haranguing at the state capitol, Blue Hills’ beds were quietly spared.
“The bipartisan budget did not reduce spending at any of the department’s facilities, so there was funding to maintain Blue Hills,” Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said Tuesday. “The beds are fully operational, and I have not heard any plans to change that.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy stoked the fears about Blue Hills’ beds leaving in February, when the proposed budget he submitted to the legislature for the current fiscal year suggested moving them. Malloy’s budget estimated that the shift would generate savings of about $900,000 in the first year and $1.2 million the second year.
DMHAS officials countered the backlash, saying moving the beds 18 miles away was a consolidation of services, and not a reduction — the Middletown facility would have 41 beds for detox.
And there was precedent for such a measure: DMHAS strongly considered transferring the beds out of Blue Hills twice before, in 1997 and 2002. Both times, the proposal was shouted down through efforts by local legislators.
“The community is elated legislators were able to keep Blue Hills Hospital open; Blue Hills Hospital is such a big part of the community in Hartford, it would have been devastating to lose that,” Leonard Thomas and Larry Watts, two Blue Hills Hospital workers who have been outspoken against the proposed transfer of the beds, said in a joint statement.
Blue Hills operates on a near-constant waiting list, sometimes three or four weeks long. And it's also one of the only facilities in the state that accepts walk-in appointments. Further, statistics from DMHAS show that Hartford has the most people accessing department-funded opioid treatment of any city or town in the state.
Courant staff writer Nicholas Rondinone contributed to this report.